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Leaving India

15 Feb

Well, after over 150 days in India, we left the same way we came in, with a crooked taxi driver. It seems fitting that it ended this way and we were so used to it that it didn’t even phase us in the least.

We got our taxi from the Bandra area of Mumbai, where we were staying with our friend Hana. Hana’s housekeeper went out and got the taxi herself, telling the driver that we were going to the INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. He quoted her a price of Rs. 250 which is a rip off, but we didn’t really care, we just wanted to get on the plane and get home. Once we got outside with our bags and the driver saw us, we knew we were in for a long trip. Hana’s housekeeper made sure to repeat that we were going to the INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT and that we shouldn’t pay him more than Rs. 250.

The beginning of the drive was decent enough until we reached the turn off for the DOMESTIC AIRPORT where the driver asked (in broken Hindglish of course) if we were going to the domestic airport or the international airport. We told him again that we were going to the INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT and he mumbled something about the price which I didn’t hear. As we approached the turn to the international airport he again asked if we were going to the international airport. We said, “YES! Challo! Now!” he smiled and made the turn. If you’ve been reading out blog, you know what comes next…He said that he thought the housekeeper said domestic airport and that the trip to the international airport was now going to cost us more. We called his bullshit and said, “No, take us to the International airport NOW. You get no more money.” As we began driving toward the terminals, he suddenly made a right turn and went down another road. We yelled at him to stop and got out of the car and told him, “You get no money now!” As we began walking toward the terminals, the driver backed up against traffic and began following us. He demanded that we get back in the taxi and that we pay him.

Astrid noticed a car full of police driving by and waved them over. I saw them too and did the same. I explained that the driver was playing a game with us and was trying to get more money out of us. The police officer got out of the car and beckoned the driver over. What happened next shocked us, in Hindi, the police officer began yelling at the driver, all I could understand was the word “tourist” and the word “rupees.” The driver taking everything in stride went to lean on the police vehicle and immediately had his arm slapped by the policeman. The policeman began yelling even more loudly and then slapped the driver across the face twice before dragging him by his ear to the taxi so the driver could read the meter to him. The officer then dragged the driver back by the ear and told us that “You pay this man nothing, not one single paisa.” We thought okay great, let us go so we can walk to the terminal. Then the officer told us to get back in the taxi so the driver could take us to the terminal…”WHAT? get back in the taxi…with the man you just beat in front of us?” I said, “Get in this taxi?” and the officer said, “Yes, we will follow you.”

So we piled back into the taxi, the driver wouldn’t even look at us and we got a police escort to the terminal with an officer riding in the front of the taxi. As we left, I offered to pay what we agreed to to get there. The officer just looked at me and shook his head. We got out of there as fast as we could and into the airport. I have no idea what happened to the guy after we left. It’s better to leave it to the imagination.

Feeling some sense of relief that that part of the ordeal was over, we settled in to wait for our plane which ended up being a hour and a half late. We knew as we boarded that we were probably going to miss our connecting fight in Heathrow to JFK. Well, we did and since the flight left from Mumbai, Virgin Atlantic doesn’t take responsibility for late departures. They also don’t put people up for the night in a local hotel nor do they give food vouchers. Our only option was to spend 69£ or $140 USD for a room for the night. We also lost out on a prepaid hotel room in JFK. Well we decided to sleep in the terminal instead and it was cold- really cold, but we found a space heater and huddled around it and got at least a few hours of sleep before the flight out at 9:30 am.

At least we got out of Heathrow in time and we made it back to the US at 12:30 pm. Only a day late…not bad. I called the hotel and they honored our reservation for that day. Now to get used to the Western world again…we’ll let you know how it goes.

Cheers!

Anthony and Astrid

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Bhubaneswar…Beware of the Pandas

1 Nov

Not the furry, cuddly, black and white animals that you might find in zoos and Chinese rainforests. These pandas or Hindu priests are sleazy, disgusting creatures that lurk inside Hindu temples. BEWARE! Once they see your white skin they jump into action grabbing flowers and trying to hand them to you, getting you to offer them to the deities and pray for your father, your mother, your sister, your brother, and your crazy uncle Larry. Then comes the best part, you get to pay for this honor and they don’t want measly ten rupee notes, no, they want hundreds only. One hundred for father, one hundred for mother, and one hundred for the aunt you don’t talk about rotting away in a women’s correctional facility in Bakersfield, CA. (Ed. note: I don’t have a crazy uncle Larry or an aunt rotting away in prison, but if I did, the pandas would want me to pray for them.)

I’ll admit it, even after reading all the websites, the travel books, etc. I got suckered into the scam- and it is a scam. Having never been in a Hindu temple, I did not know the etiquette. Am I supposed to give a holy man the finger and tell him to bugger off? I guess I am. But these pandas are counting on the fact that you won’t. That you will be good little rich, white people and go along with the prayers, that you will open your shoulder bag (which is obviously overflowing with money) and give freely. I got away with only giving a couple of ten rupee notes. I feel the need now to apologize to my family- of course you are worth more than twenty rupees, but not when I am getting scammed.

Our autorickshaw driver-cum tour guide (who barely spoke a word of English) quickly ushered us out of the temple and back into the rickshaw. He turned to me and mimed the signal for money (rubbing fingers together,) the signal for no (palm facing me, waving side to side,) and the signal for get out of here fool (a sweeping motion with the hand.) He must have really wanted me to understand because he went through it about seven times and another two before we entered the next temple. OK, OK, I get it…sheesh.

Unfortunately, Hindu temples across the board are difficult. If you can get in, meaning you are either Hindu or male, though sometimes women are allowed in, you ALWAYS have to deal with these pandas wanting to give puja. Finally, we just gave up and went to temples that were open as archaeological sites. They tended to have more presence anyway, and rarely do you have pandas, or anyone else for that matter, coming after you.

That being said, Astrid and I really did enjoy the temple architecture of Bhubaneswar. An example of the Kalingan style showing influences of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu styles with arches, carvings, and domes that look like Buddhist stupas. The best place by far to see these temples is the Mukteswar and Siddheswar temples in Bhubaneswar pictured here, and the Sun Temple in Konark.

To the left is the Siddheswar Mandir with a red-painted Ganesh greeting you as you come closer. The feeling here was calm and serene with only a couple of families walking around. A huge change from the other frenetic temples we walked through.

The Mukteswar Mandir pictured to the right, in the same temple complex as the Siddheswar Mandir is one of the most ornate temples in Bhubaneswar, and one of the most beautiful.

From here we leave by bus for a one and a half hour journey to Puri to spend some time near the beach by the Bay of Bengal, see the Sun Temple at Konark and sort out the next leg of our trip.

See you there.

A Place to Avoid in Kolkata

25 Oct

So, I just wanted to convey a little story about our first day in Kolkata.  Astrid and I were coming in by airplane because we couldn’t get a train ticket.  Being the end of Durga Puja, many Bengali’s were making their way back from holiday and many of the hotels in Kolkata were still full of tourists, etc.

I frantically tried to call hotel after hotel to get a place to rest our heads, but to no avail.  Either I couldn’t get anyone on the phone, I couldn’t HEAR them once I got them on the phone, or they were fully booked.  Desperately, I finally got through to a place called Capital Guest House near Sudder Street in the Chowringhee area of Kolkata.  They seemed great on the phone, getting us an AC room for Rs. 700 a night and offering to pick us up at the airport for another Rs. 400.  This seemed a little high to me, but beggars can’t be choosers so we decided to take our chances and go with it.

Fast forward to our arrival in Kolkata- everything is smooth, the guy picks us up at the airport as agreed and drives us to the hotel.  The whole time I have this feeling that the place is a dump- it might have been because of the road worthiness of the car which was dubious at best, or the fact that our driver was cross-eyed, greasy, and obviously woke up on the wrong side of the deodorant stick that morning.  Diesel smoke from the cars around us mixed in with the exhaust that was coming into the car from the engine compartment.  Then, without warning the tire popped and we had to wait for the driver to fix it on a busy Kolkata street with buses, cars, and trucks whizzing by all gloriously honking as they went.

After about 20 minutes, we finally got back on the road and made our way to the hotel.  As we pulled in our hearts sank.  The hotel was so shitty from the outside, I wouldn’t want my worst enemy staying there.  I thought “let’s give it a chance and see the inside…” it was no better- tight, scummy hallways with red paan (betel nut wrapped in leaves that WAY too many Indian men chew) stains on the walls, and seedy looking bellhops.  Our bellhop opened the door to our room and I had to stifle a scream. Totally disgusting, dirty, and unkempt, plaster peeling off the walls that were first painted sometime around the partition of India sixty years ago and then left to molder.  The bathroom had a smell that I can’t quite explain with words- kind of that ammonia/ urine smell, but doubled or tripled.  The AC we were promised was barely kicking out cold air.  It was foul- and we were stuck for the night.  When we completed the paperwork, the manager wanted three days rent up front- “No fucking way!,” I thought and agreed to pay for one night and the ripoff pickup from the airport.

After checking in we went straight out to try to find someplace better to stay and have dinner.  After failing to find anything else (but with promise for the next day), we slunk back to our hotel, tails between our legs and went to bed.  Being surprised with dirty sheets and a smorgasboard of bugs that seemed to come from nowhere.

We awoke the next morning VERY early and went straight to the guest house with promise.  We were shown a VERY nice room in a new section of the hotel with a queen size bed, AC that worked, new bathroom, clean, smelled nice, etc.- it was beautiful.  We took it- right then and went back to our hotel to quickly pack and check out.  We sprinted downstairs, threw our room key to the manager at full trot, and ran from the hotel as fast a possible.  As we were leaving, the manager called after us, “Where will you go?”  Without turning around, we both yelled in unison, “SUPER GUEST HOUSE!”

If the story was not explicit enough, DO NOT stay at Capital Guest House in Kolkata- they will rip you off and smile to your face while doing it.  Spend a little extra and stay at Super Guest House.

Cheers!

What I say versus what I want to say:

24 Sep

Over the past couple of weeks I have come to realize there are things that I say to hawkers, autorickshaw drivers and touts when I really want to say something else…

Here is a short list, just for fun: 🙂
Random guy: “Hello my friend, come see my shop/ factory/ restaurant/ massage table/ stall/ you name it.”

What I say: “No thank you.”
What I want to say: “I’m not your friend, get away from me.”

Hotel owner that cheated us in Varanasi: “Did you enjoy your stay in my hotel?”

What I say: “Yes, it was great.”
What I want to say: “Hell no, I’m getting on every travel site as soon as I can and making sure that people are armed with the knowledge that you are cheats and liars.”
(BTW don’t stay at Hotel Haifa in Varanasi…)

Auto/ cycle rickshaw driver: “Hello friend (I have so many friends all of a sudden) come, I’ll take you to **insert ancient monument here**.

What I say: “No thank you.”
What I want to say: “If I wanted an autorickshaw, I would find you, now get fucked.”

There are so many more, but you get the flavor.

We made it!

12 Sep

We landed in Delhi last night at about 10:30 pm local time and promptly got knocked over by the chaos that is the Indira Ghandi International Airport.  After withdrawing money from an atm and purchasing a pre-paid taxi slip, we got into a taxi for our trip to Majnu Ka Tilla.

If for a minute we thought it would be easy, we were mistaken.  We were being scammed from the get go.  The two nice taxi drivers were playing dumb like they didn’t know where our hotel was- they ended up taking us through Karol Bagh (a nasty place to be) telling us it was Majnu Ka Tilla to show us how unsafe it was to be on the streets.  Luckily I was aware that the signs on the road were saying Karol Bagh and asked the driver why we were here instead of where we were supposed to go.  We then ended up on a wild goose chase that took us to a “tourist office” where the nice gentleman supposedly called our hotel to check our reservation- yeah right- I was talking to his buddy and knew it right away.  I hung up on the guy and we got back into the taxi to continue the scam.  As we drove back through Connaught Place- the opposite direction of Majnu Ka Tilla, our taxi broke down and we ended up conveniently in front of another “tourist office.”  Having had enough of the game playing, I worked out a deal where the scammers paid an autorickshaw driver to take us to our hotel.

We finally reached it at 1:30 a.m. and got to go to sleep.  BTW- I recommend our hotel if you are in Delhi- it is called Wongdhen House in the New Tibetan Colony, north of Civil Lines.

Here is the view from our hotel room of the Yamuna River.

picture-005.jpg

We leave Friday for Agra and then who knows from there, either Varanasi or the Rajasthan desert.

Cheers!